Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Bengal Boat Model Exhibit

Model of a sewn-planked, lug-rigged double-ended Bengali boat on display at Tarani Majhir Ghat, Salt Lake Stadium (Photo courtesy Swarap Bhattacharyya. Click to enlarge.)
Swarup Bhattacharyya maintains a fine blog, Noukoghar: Abode of Bengal Boat. He's written to draw attention to his latest post, about a great little exhibit of Bengali boat models at the Tarani Majhir Ghat, Salt Lake Stadium, organized by the intriguingly-named "Backward Classes Welfare Department, Govt. of West Bengal." Swarup's post has nice photos depicting a variety of interesting native craft -- I only wish there was some detail about the models and the boats they represent.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Samoan Paopao

Born in 1877 or thereabouts, Te Rangi Hīroa, aka Sir Peter Henry Buck, was a half-English, half-Maori anthropologist who studied Maori and other Pacific cultures. In his 1930 publication Samoan Material Culture (complete text here free), he described seven boat types of Samoa: three based on dugout technology, and four of sewn-plank construction. Quoting directly from the source, these were:

Dugout Canoes
1.         Paopao. The smallest dugout, with two outrigger booms, propelled by paddling.
2.         Soatau. A medium dugout, with three outrigger booms, propelled by paddling.
3.         'Iatolima. The largest of the dugouts, with five outrigger booms, topsides, bow and stern covers, and sail.
Plank Canoes
4.         Va'a alo. The bonito boat made of lashed planks, with two outrigger booms connected with float, propelled by paddling.
5.         Amatasi. A plank canoe larger than the bonito boat, with two outrigger booms connected with the float, a platform over the booms, balancing spars on the right, and a mast for sailing.
6.         Taumualua. A wide plank canoe without outrigger, modelled originally on whaleboat lines, idea foreign but technique native.
7.         'Alia. The double voyaging canoe made of planks and consisting of two canoes lashed together.

Due to the incursion of Western technologies and political administration, only one of each category was still in use during his research: the paopao and the va'a alo, although a few stray examples of some of the other types were still in existence, if no longer usable. Here we'll look at the paopao; we may address some of the other types in future posts.
Model of a paopao. All images from Samoan Material Culture. (Click any image to enlarge.)
The paopao, or small canoe, was a single-outrigger paddle-propelled dugout designed for one man, although it was capable of carrying two in a pinch. It was used exclusively inside the islands' surrounding reefs primarily for transportation and for fishing, often by trolling a hook. According to Te Rangi Hīroa, the paopao was "in active general use throughout the (Samoan islands)…and is an indispensible part of every male adult's equipment in life."  To quote further:
The paopao canoes are made by the householders who are not expert carpenters. A master builder while enumerating the canoes made by the carpenters' guild omitted the paopao. On my mentioning it, he smiled and said, "The paopao is not a canoe." Neither is it from the expert point of view. In the eyes of the guild they rank with the cooking houses and are beneath their dignity to build.
In Hīroa's time, most or all of this home-grown boatbuilding was done with steel adzes.

Paopao in plan and cross-section.
The main hull of the paopao has a fascinating cross-section. The stem was heavy and vertical on the outside, and the hold was deepest at its forward end, gradually becoming shallower until it reached the rear outrigger boom, at which point the bottom sloped up sharply to meet the sheerline. The paddler sat aft of amidships, so his weight raised the forward end and this resulted in approximately even draft along the boat's length, but it also meant little freeboard aft. The knob at the very end of the stern was used as a fastening point for a rope when transporting the log from the forest to the boat's building site. It served no further function, but was retained as a decorative element.

In plan view, the hull was narrow, double-ended, and roughly symmetrical fore and aft. Amidships, the hull was round in cross-section – i.e., it was not expanded – so the greatest beam was some inches below the sheerline. (A 16'8" LOA paopao hull measured 14.5" maximum beam.) Inwales were carved to provide a wider bearing surface for the outrigger booms: as they weren't intended to contribute to stiffness, these inboard hull flanges did not continue into the ends.

As the boats were not sailed, outrigger booms were fairly short: a measured 15-footer had booms 4'6" and 4'7" long. Each boom was lashed to the hull through a single hole bored just below the inwale. The booms were straight, and connected to the float by struts. The floats were long and pointed at the forward end, but cut off square just behind the aft support. Floats were aligned parallel with the main hull.

Because of the sloping run of the hull's bottom, the forward connecting struts were longer than the aft struts. Two styles of struts were observed:
1. Paired rods: Each boom had two pairs or ironwood rods, with the top ends lashed directly to the boom. The upper ends of the paired rods that were inboard of the float slanted inboard (i.e., toward the hull), while the rods outboard of the float sloped outboard. The bottom ends of the rods were sharpened and forced into holes bored on either side of the centerline on the top surface of the float. To make all fast, lashings were passed over the boom and through holes bored transversely through a longitudinal ridge standing proud on the upper surface of the float.
2. Forked branches: Each boom had a Y-shaped connector: the two upper arms of the Y were lashed to the boom, and the sharpened bottom end was inserted into a hole bored on the float's upper surface. The lashing method was not recorded, but it may have been similar to that used for the other method.
Paopao end decorations
Some paopao had decorative protrusions left standing proud on the upper surfaces of the solid ends. Short sections of V-shaped serrations were also carved into the gunwales of some of the canoes just inboard of the solid ends. The seat was a simple plank that locked over the gunwale just forward of the aft outrigger boom, and it was removed when the boat was not in use. Where paopao were used for rod fishing, a forked rod rest would be lashed to the forward boom, while the pole's butt end rested on the after boom.

(All information derived from Samoan Material Culture by Peter H. Buck, a.k.a., Te Rangi Hīroa)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Tomol Revival

In our most recent posts, which looked at the cultural background of the Chumash tomol and at tomol construction, both referred to replica boats – tomols that have been built since the end of "natural" indigenous use of this interesting sewn-plank canoe.
Tomol under construction by Fernando Librado, 1912 or 1913. (Click any image to enlarge.)
The first such replica was built in 1912 or 1913 under the direction of Fernando Librado, probably the last of the Chumash "Brotherhood of the Tomol" – the guild that built and used the boats. Librado, then 73 years old, built the boat at the request of John Peabody Harrington, an anthropologist who "discovered" (for the purposes of modern science) that the Chumash had not died out by the 1870s and were, in fact, still a living culture in the first decade of the 20th century. Recognizing the central role the tomol had played in Chumash culture prior to and well into the era of the Spanish missions, Harrington plied Librado with hours of questions about every aspect of tomol construction and usage, and had him build a full-size replica that is now in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. (See the museum's pages on Chumash life.)

Librado's replica was not correct in all respects -- it used commercially sawn lumber and its shape was not quite authentic -- but through its construction, Harrington was nevertheless able to capture much detail about the building process, and through his intensive questioning of Librado, he was able to tease out the differences and arrive at was is probably a very accurate depiction of the boat's original form and construction. Harrington continued to live among the Chumash so intensively that he became one of them and, after receiving a post with the federal Bureau of American Ethnology, he documented their culture in thousands of pages of hand-written notes, leaving virtually no aspect of Chumash life unrecorded.
Librado's tomol in the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. (Photo from  blog Jack Elliott's Santa Barbara Adventure.)
In the 1970s there was a widespread reawakening of American Indian/First Peoples pride and culture, and in 1975, members of the Quabajai Chumash Indian Association built Helek, a tomol that took advantage of Harrington's notes and Librado's replica. (I've seen the word helek defined variously as hawk, falcon, and peregrine falcon.) This boat was launched in 1976, and it was campaigned on historic Chumash stomping grounds between San Miguel Island, Santa Rosa Island, and Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands group.
Plans for Helek, based on Harrington's description and Librado's replica. This is probably the most accurate depiction possible of a tomol.
Helek's maiden voyage.
Helek proved the be the first of several modern replicas. The Chumash Maritime Association was founded in 1996 and built the tomol 'Elye'wun (Swordfish) which, in 2001 crossed from the mainland to Santa Cruz Island: a 21-mile voyage taking 10 hours. Since then, channel crossings by the group have become a nearly annual event (the trip was cancelled in 2012 due to rough seas on the scheduled day).
'Elye'wun, built by the Chumash Maritime Association
A Google image search for "Chumash tomol" turns up photos of several additional replicas, although details on most of these have proven elusive. Some of them are clearly more authentic than others, and the quality of workmanship varies widely. Nonetheless, it appears that tomol construction is no longer in danger of becoming a lost art, and that it is being practiced by cultural organizations and individuals as a means of preserving both Chumash heritage and native skills.

I invite readers to provide information and photos about specific tomol projects. We'd love to learn and show more. Thanks!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tomol Construction

A Chumash tomol. Painting by Robert Thomas. Click any image to enlarge.

In our previous post, we looked at social and economic aspects of the California Chumash planked canoe or tomol. Now let's see how they were built.

The primary construction materials were softwood for planking, asphaltum (i.e., bitumen) and pine pitch for sealing, and red milkweed for caulking and sewing. Redwood was the preferred wood, because of its light weight, durability, rot resistance, and ease of working. Redwood is not native to the Santa Barbara region where the Chumash lived, but a fair amount turned up as driftwood, primarily on the shores on the Channel Islands. Far less redwood driftwood was available on the mainland on the other side of the Santa Barbara channel. On the other hand, bitumen was easily mined on the mainland from exposed coastal cliff faces, so most tomols were built on the islands with bitumen imported from the mainland. But because of the economic importance of the tomol, they were built wherever possible, including on the mainland, and if redwood was unavailable, other softwoods were used.

Tree trunks were split into planks with wedges made from whalebone. The quality of the planking material was of such concern that a log might only yield a few planks acceptably free of knots, cracks and bad grain. After being split, planks were further worked to consistent thickness with axes and adzes made of stone or shell, then smoothed with sharkskin "sandpaper."

The tomol was built right side up. The bottom plank was somewhat dished, but it was not thick enough to constitute a "dugout" base: in other words, the tomol was a true plank-built boat, not an extended dugout. The bottom plank was set on a V-shaped framework that established the angle of the sides. (It's not clear to me from the available materials whether this was a single building form located amidships, or a series of connected forms -- i.e., a building frame -- that determined the shape at several stations.)

Each strake consisted of several short planks which were beveled at the ends to make lap joints. The strake-to-strake joints were butted and had caulking bevels, like standard carvel planking. The garboards, which were set on top of the bottom plank, were beveled to establish the proper angle for the sides.

Fitting the planks was probably the most difficult and time-consuming task in tomol construction. A complex series of lines was strung as guides to each plank's shape. On occasion, it was possible to get out a plank with the proper curves from a suitably curved piece of timber; at other times, a plank might be hewn to the required curved shape. Most planks, however, had to be sprung in place. To soften them, they were placed in clay-lined, water-filled pit, and hot rocks were added to boil the water. After the planks had soaked for some hours, they were removed and quickly bent and twisted to shape on the boat. They were bedded in yop -- a mixture of bitumen and pitch pine.

Pairs of holes were bored in adjacent planks with stone drills, and grooves cut between the holes. Waxed cordage made of red milkweed fiber was passed through the holes: each stitch consisted of three turns, followed by two knots. (Cordage was made by women; men performed all other tasks associated with construction.) All stitches were separate. The ties were recessed into the surface of the plank, and so were protected from abrasion. Plank laps were stitched in a similar manner. More milkweed fiber was forced into the planking bevels. All plank joints and tie-holes were sealed with more yop.

A tomol built in 1912 or 1913 for anthropologist John Peabody Harrington by Fernando Librado, the last Chumash to have worked with the old "Brotherhood of the Tomol" boatbuilders guild.
Most tomols had six strakes. A single thwart was placed amidships, sandwiched between the fifth and sixth (gunwale) strakes. This was the only internal strengthening member, and it was never used as a seat. The first five strakes were apparently beveled to meet at the bow and stern (where they were stitched together): the gunwale strakes stopped just short of one another, leaving a V-shaped gap at the ends through which fishing or harpoon lines could run. Half-round "ears" were sewn atop the ends of the gunwale strakes, raising the height of the V. While claims are made that these served as washboards, they appear too small to have been functional: I believe they were primarily decorative. A rope was passed around the both ends, just inboard of the ears, to keep the uppermost strakes from spreading.

After planking was complete, internal stem- and sternposts were added. These were triangular in cross-section and extended from the bottom plank to the top of the fifth strake, and were fastened with yop and stitches.

Excess yop was then scraped off and the wood was sanded again and sealed with pine pitch. Red ochre was added to the pitch for color. Using a raccoon-tail brush, all stitches were painted black. The ears were often decorated with shell inlays in geometric patterns, and occasionally crushed abalone shell was dusted onto the pine pitch sealant while it was still tacky: this made the whole boat sparkle in the sunlight.

Helek, a replica tomol (26.5' LOA) built in 1976.
Construction of a tomol took two to six months for seven workers– a really significant outlay of labor and resources for a hunter-gatherer society. The boats were highly valued and received daily maintenance. Although they leaked badly and required almost constant bailing, they were seaworthy and well-suited to the needs of their builders. According to a Spanish sea captain's report in 1602:
"A canoe came out to us with two Indian fishermen, who had a great quantity of fish, rowing so swiftly that they seemed to fly.... After they had gone five Indians came out in another canoe, so well constructed and built that since Noah's Ark a finer and lighter vessel with timbers better made has not been seen."
After the Spanish settled the Santa Barbara region, Chumash boatbuilders produced tomols for the Spanish missions, which relied on them for communications and trade. The design of the tomol did not change, but the Spanish made sawn lumber and steel tools available, and this must have greatly telescoped the building process. 

A tomol replica: does anyone know where this is and who built it?

Jeanne E. Arnold, "Credit Where Credit is Due: The History of the Chumash Oceangoing Plank Canoe," American Antiquity, 72(2), 2007, pp. 196-209
Dee Travis Hudson, "Chumash Canoes of Mission Santa Barbara: the Revolt of 1824," Journal of California Anthropology, 1976
Brian Fagan, "The Chumash," in Time Detectives. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995